On Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a sweeping lawsuit against Walmart Inc. for Controlled Substances Act (CSA) violations relating to its pharmacies’ distribution of prescription opioids during the height of the opioid epidemic. The agency’s 160-page complaint alleges that the corporate retailer’s actions resulted in hundreds of thousands of CSA transgressions.
The federal government’s suit follows Walmart’s preemptive attempt to avoid culpability, as Law Street Media reported Oct. 23. The retail giant’s complaint for declaratory relief argued that the DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) improperly put the onus on pharmacists and pharmacies to adjudge whether an opioid prescription was written by an unscrupulous doctor. This, the retailer contended, is the DEA’s congressionally delegated job, and foisting it upon pharmacies improperly exposes them to liability from interference with the doctor-patient relationship, among other things.
The DOJ now asserts that, as a pharmacy operator, Walmart “knowingly filled thousands of controlled substance prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or in the usual course of medical practice, and that it filled prescriptions outside the ordinary course of pharmacy practice.” The complaint also alleges that Walmart received hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders that it was legally bound to report, but did not, to the DEA. Collectively, the filing contends, these actions helped enable the prescription opioid crisis gripping the nation.
The DOJ’s complaint seeks the maximum civil penalties allowable under the CSA in addition to injunctive relief. The agency’s news release notes that if Walmart is held liable, it could face penalties of nearly $70,000 per filled prescription and nearly $16,000 for each suspicious prescription that went unreported.